September 30, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: Sending the disciples

See Luke 10:1-24

My previous four columns concerned the things that Jesus did in Jerusalem while he was there for the feast of Tabernacles, as described in John’s Gospel. That Gospel goes immediately from that feast, celebrated around the middle of October, to the feast of Hanukkah, celebrated in December. Where was he during those four months?

We know that he didn’t return to Galilee. He had left there because he knew that Herod Antipas was looking for him. Matthew and Mark say that he went to “Judea across the Jordan,” but Judea didn’t stretch across the Jordan River. Scholars disagree about where he went, but some are convinced that he went to Batanea, also known as Bethany Beyond the Jordan, perhaps located east of the Sea of Galilee. It would have been at least a four-day journey from Jerusalem.

Whether from there or someplace closer to Jerusalem, Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus appointed 72 disciples (although some early texts say only 70), and sent them in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. Our first reaction has to be, “Where did those 72 disciples come from all of a sudden?” This is the first we’ve heard of them.

We are accustomed to thinking of Jesus traveling with his 12 Apostles and women who ministered to their needs. That would already be a large group. But apparently Jesus had more disciples than we thought. How many? Acts 1:15 tells us that 120 disciples were present in the Upper Room when the Apostles chose Matthias to replace Judas, and Paul (1 Cor 15:6) says that Jesus appeared to more than 500 brothers after his resurrection. Even in Bethany Beyond the Jordan, John’s Gospel reports, “Many there believed in him” (Jn 10:42).

Not only believed in him, but also apparently willing and able to leave their homes and employment at least long enough to go out as advance men (and women?) for Jesus. Jesus commissioned them much as he earlier had done with the Apostles—to heal the sick and preach the message that “the kingdom of God is at hand.”

If those 72 disciples, traveling in pairs, went to places Jesus planned to visit, Jesus must have been traveling constantly—at least to 36 places. When they returned, they rejoiced at their success. Jesus too “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit,” the only time in the Gospels that we’re told that he was joyful. He rejoiced that God had revealed the mysteries of the kingdom to the childlike.

He followed that up with a statement that could have come from John’s Gospel: “No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

We can only imagine how the disciples felt when Jesus reminded them how fortunate they were because “many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” †


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